When you arrive at this “competition” you’re greeted by tents tucked away throughout the forest; rather than a rule book to be followed. When you check-in you turn around to find yourself surrounded by peers and friends; rather than judges. And when it’s your turn to compete you find yourself being cheered on by your competitors and their families. These moments not only reflect the spirit of the Tree Community, but more specifically the spirit of Tree Jam Camp.
Technically, yes, Tree Jam Camp is a climbing competition. However, at its core it’s a summer getaway weekend; a time and space for men and women in the tree climbing industry to gather with their families and hold a huge tree community family reunion. It’s an event where sharing skills and knowledge are encouraged and swapping tree stories are the norm. It’s a space where you’re around like-minded people who have the same excitement and passion for trees, the industry, and the community as do you. It’s a yearly pilgrimage for those in the industry and the 2017 event was one for the ages.
Fond Reflections of Camp and Competition
From 2015-2017, Tree Jam Camp took place at Camp Cavell in Lexington, Michigan, where they also have a strong bond with the trees, using them to take disabled and handicapped children up into the trees. Money to support this cause was raised and donated to the camp by various businesses and organizations, including Bartlett Arborist Supply who donated various pieces of gear to help not only keep camp safe, but keep the health and imagination of the kids alive who look forward to getting away from their disability by climbing in the trees.
As I sat on a leather couch suspended off the ground by ropes and looked around I realized these people had grown from strangers to family over the years. Going from my camp site to the dining hall and back took me at least an hour – not because the walk was long, but because I kept running into old friends who I only get to see annually at Tree Jam Camp.
The air started to fill with the tunes of the live band “Mountain Babies.” It bounced off the trees and set the mood for the evening as it quickly turned to pitch black night. Being out in the country, away from city lights, only the stars shone bright, along with the 50 ft Black Light Open Ascent Event that was going on. The energy at the base of the tree was palpable. From my vantage I could see glow sticks, necklaces, black lights, disco balls, and two climbers racing faster than you can imagine up the ropes using their system of choice with nothing other than the screams and cheers below to propel them to the top. Once the event was over, everyone slowly trickled away to either their cabins or tents and the forest was quiet and calm once more.
The next morning the early risers started the day off right with Yoga, but people like me, who awoke just a bit later, crawled out to grab some much needed coffee and peer at the horizon as the day gradually transitioned from sun to rain. The rain painted everything with a somber pallor. That is except for everyone in attendance; their smiles never broke, and neither did the weather.
Camp Cavell sits overlooking Lake Huron and sailboats off in the distance mimicked pirate ships as the fog started to blow in. The competition side of Tree Jam Camp had begun and getting to the events meant walking across a slippery bridge, up rocky stairs, and down a mud path. Here and there a scattering of climbers, along with all of their gear, hid under trees, umbrellas, and small pop up tents, while others hid in horse barns or in the dining hall as they awaited there turn to compete.
As those waiting took shelter, the competing climbers wrestled with slick limbs and wet ropes. The weather, however, would not hold them back. If anything, it proved just the opposite, and showed how skilled the competitors truly were in any conditions. Judges and techs sopped up the rain as it hit them all day long, never complaining, never leaving for a break. At times of downpour, when you were sure everyone had abandoned the competitions and taken cover, you could still hear the sound of ongoing events.
I changed my clothes about three times that day, airing out what I could in the hope that it might dry and get me through the rest of the weekend. After we spent a day like kids in the rain, everyone dried out and gathered tightly for the awards ceremony. Winners were announced, prizes were given, and a genuine excitement for each of those recognized filled the room. If you can count on the Tree Community for one thing, above all, it is be genuine support for fellow climbers and their achievements.
During the final night of the weekend, large campfires appeared as beacons throughout the forest and beach, reaching up into the night sky like flickering fingers trying to touch the stars. Again, the darkness of the forest crept in and stories, along with a few drinks, were shared, bathed in a warm orange glow from the fires. The rain had stopped, the competition was over, and we all knew the next morning would lead to packing up and packing out, but we were intent on enjoying this last night together to the fullest.
Truly a Global Event
Throughout the years at this event, I’ve met people from all over America, Canada, Fiji, France, Switzerland, and probably more. It’s amazing to know the climbing world has no limits, nor does it passion. This industry is growing every day, as are techniques, job opportunities, and competitions. However, it continually amazes me to witness events like Tree Jam Camp that get you back to the center of what such a large part of your life revolves around: the tree. Not the techniques, not the job part of it, not the competitive side to it, not even the new findings...just simply you and this towering, living, natural element.
If you’ve never attended Tree Jam Camp, make plans to attend next year’s climbing competition. You really need to experience the spirit of the event for yourself. I hope to see you there!